In most people, hiccups occur only occasionally after eating a large meal. What does it mean if you have frequent hiccups?
Most people get them at least occasionally. Hiccups are spasmodic contractions of the diaphragm usually due to irritation. They can be uncomfortable, but are usually short-lived, although there are some cases on record of hiccups lasting for years. The Guinness Book of World Records lists a case of hiccups experienced by a man in Iowa that lasted for an unbelievable sixty-eight years. It’s unlikely that record will be beat! In some cases, hiccups can be more than just an occasional annoyance, for some people they can be a recurring problem. What are the causes of frequent hiccups?
Most cases of simple hiccups are caused by simple irritation of the diaphragm. The diaphragm can become irritated when food is eaten too quickly, particularly when the food is unusually hot or cold in temperature. They can also be caused by excess swallowing of air during eating. Overindulgence is another common cause. A trip to a buffet may trigger hiccups after several plates of food are eaten in a short time period, particularly if a lot of air is swallowed. Choice of beverage can also play a role in symptoms of frequent hiccupping. People who drink alcohol or carbonated beverages may experience frequent hiccups. The solution in most of these cases is to eat and drink more slowly and stay away from alcohol and carbonated drinks. Avoiding the use of straws when drinking liquids may also help since this encourages swallowing of air.
In some cases, the cause of frequent hiccups can be more emotional than physical. Hiccups can be brought on by stress and anxiety in some people. One indication that hiccups are caused by stress rather than other more serious causes is that stress induced ones will generally disappear with sleep. Anti-anxiety medications can sometimes cure frequent hiccuping.
Rarely, frequent hiccuping can be a sign of central nervous systems disease such as a brain tumor, infection of the brain or spinal cord, degenerative disease of the brain, or stroke. Frequent hiccups can also occur after head trauma such as a concussion. Even disturbances in electrolyte levels, particularly sodium and potassium, can cause frequent hiccups. Disease such as diabetes, kidney failure, and liver disease can bring on changes in electrolyte levels that can lead to frequent hiccuping or hiccups that fail to go away.
Another not uncommon cause of frequent hiccups is gastroesophageal reflux or GERD. This is a common condition where stomach acid moves backwards into the esophagus causing heartburn and, sometimes, hiccups. Frequent hiccups associated with heartburn symptoms should be investigated by a doctor to rule out GERD.
The bottom line? Frequent hiccups may have simple causes such as eating too rapidly or swallowing excess air, but it’s safest to have this problem checked out by a doctor if it occurs more than occasionally.